Entering the stage wearing jackets, shirts and ties, while the audience members could see it was a group of younger guys, many had no idea these were high school musicians. These young musicians were members of the Herbie Hancock Institute Peer-to-Peer jazz education program.
Introducing the Institute’s National Peer-to-Peer Jazz Sextet at the historic Blues Alley in Georgetown was JB Dyas, Ph.D., vice president for Education and Curriculum Development at the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.
Dyas went on a 13-city recruitment tour to find the young musicians in this Peer-to-Peer group. The six students completed a week of performing at high schools throughout Virginia and spoke to students about their study of jazz and career aspirations.
“These kids are fantastic. They have gone through a set of adversities that we have not seen in a long time,” said Dyas. “They’ve gone through the pandemic. But they have a certain level of coalescence that they have found with one another.”
The junior and senior high school students opened with Hancock’s hit “Cantaloupe Island,” and the group’s setlist included songs by a variety of composers, including Cyrus Chestnut, who is an award-winning pianist and professor at Howard University. The set ended with a rousing rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
Performing with the sextet on several songs was Kansas City jazz and blues and past winner of the Institute’s International Jazz Vocals Competition, Lisa Henry. Also playing with the sextet was Sean Jones, a globally acclaimed trumpeter, band leader and jazz educator at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
The members of the all-star sextet selected to participate in the Virginia tour and Blues Alley concert were saxophonist Leo Milano, age 18, from Chicago; trombonist Evan Dexter age 17, from Los Angeles; guitarist Leo Sandoval, age 17, from Houston; bassist Camara Dupree age 17, from New Orleans; and pianist Jose Andre Montano, age 17 and drummer Kevin Kearney, age 17, both students at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in the District.
Five members are graduating high school seniors with their college careers already set. Milano will attend the University of the Pacific, Dupree will attend Louisiana State University, Dexter is going to the Manhattan School of Music, and both Kearney and Sandoval are scheduled to go to Peabody Conservatory.
From the standing ovation received by the group at the end of their set, the future is bright for these talented jazz musicians. They were all smiles and obviously thrilled with the audience’s response. Like past students in the Hancock Institute Peer-to-Peer jazz education program, Dyas will keep an eye on these students.
“Those of us that are in education, it’s important for us to help them stay together,” Dyas said.